Category Archives: Short Stories

A Mixture of stuff, for.

Its funny, he thought, how the little things can traverse the years. How old tumbleweeds can blow around your brain, sometimes unseen in the hubbub, but the only break in the silence of the dark hours. ‘Rustle, rustle’ in the twilight hours. Dated pictures and once typed words, ‘rustle, rustle.’
James hunched further over his laptop, the first slide open on the screen. It read ‘A Mixture of Stuff, for James.’ It was an old set of slides, and unlike an old book whose pages would be dog-eared and stained, it held no record of the hours James had spent pouring over it. It was indifferent, but the old graphs, pictures, and words meant more to James than any book ever could.
He did the usual and played the song. Music from years ago filtered out the tinny speakers, filling the room with a blissful melancholy. It was routine, rustle rustle, funeral music for a bygone age. The journal of falling in love, a story that felt unfinished, but the final chapters ripped away. There was something beautiful in that, if desperately sad. He supposed that the song was some eulogy, although it had been meant as a rebirth.
A kindness. Something admirable, a goodbye from the woman he once loved. Still loved. Tried not to love, rustle, abhorred, rustle, adored. He took a long drag from his cigarette and felt the smoke fill his lungs. The slight breathlessness felt poignant, real, a brief departure from his fantasy of melancholia and past pixels.
So he began again, each new slide a jocular aperture, an inside joke made before inside jokes could be, the innermost thoughts of a lost soul mate. Moronic, loved, silly but serious. He could almost feel the same catch in his throat that he had felt years ago, the mixture of laughter and light. He smiled, the cigarette dangling from his lips. It had begun to burn down to the hilt. The song hit the chorus, the keyboards and words of hope dancing with the prose on screen.
He paused for a moment. Her face was almost gone now, his mind pushing it deep down into those hard places, the ones whose angles were felt in the darkest moments. The sheer faces where one may spiral (rustle, rustle) and lose himself. He remembered snatches of her smile, her eyes, her laugh. He had paid more penance for his mistakes than lashes could split his back.
But still, the slides and the music were all that was left (rustle.)
The final slide once again, a silly graph. Weirdness vs interest, a self-effacing joke. But years later, the joke was not as funny. It was damn beautiful, molecules of love coming together (rustle) in a sea of randomness (rustle) now split (rustle) and each (rustle) passing moment driving him further away.
The song ended as the cigarette ebbed out, and he closed the screen. The world around him had seemed much darker since. And in the night his lighter flared, the silence once again filling his brain. Let a single tumbleweed, rustling in the opaque. Perhaps one day the weeds could meet again. Rustle (together.)

Every once in a while I like to write something different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Ben

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Coffee. Disney. Love.

Every once in a while there is a brief moment where our world falls away. Or at least, that’s what the songs tell you. A moment where the veneer of our daily worries retreats just enough to bring things into perspective. ‘A Disney moment,’ Angela would call it. And as she turned the page of her book, and heard the melodic clink of ceramic on ceramic , she finally learned what that truly meant.

*****

It had been a hard day. Josie had been difficult as usual, or a ‘bitch’ as Angela preferred to say (privately.) To Angela it seemed odd that a woman so similar to her could be so challenging to work with. But she supposed there was an element of misunderstanding, different expectations and reactions. But in the ongoing show-reel of her head, Angela was happy to entertain the drama.

‘You are too dramatic, just let it go’ her mother had always said. Angela hated to admit when her mother was right, but, annoyingly, as time went on, she seemed all the wiser. But she didn’t have to admit it, instead she preferred to pretend. There had to be a little entertainment. A hard day could just be another story.

But with a hard day comes something lost, something she needed to fulfil. And usually she just went home and watched Netflix. Let it all blend together. But, today felt different.

So, today of all days, she had decided to reward herself. She had always enjoyed an iced latte, but upon reaching the counter at Starbucks had found herself drawn elsewhere. An exotic Colombian roast. She had always wanted to visit Colombia, but work had always got in the way. The world never stopped turning for you.

The world of Disney princesses, fantastical princes and adventures was a far cry from what truly was. It was invented to make life bearable, and the brief breaths of romance and heroism were, as she considered, delusions. There was simply no magic left, just the odd physical pleasure, a new taste, smell or sound. A brewing Colombian coffee on a Friday night.

So there she was, mind buried in the events of her day, Josie’s (bitch) face droning on, the words of her novel half ignored, and her special coffee warming her stomach. But Angela wasn’t really there until she heard the ‘clink.’ And in a very human habit, she turned her head and saw him; the old man with the tired eyes.

His skin had greyed a little, and fresh whiskers poked out from his pale face. He had a small coffee pressed to his lips, which were pursed. A little of the coffee had spilled down his front, staining his white shirt (although, it was already a little yellow.) Angela liked that, authenticity and permanence were comforting in such a rapidly changing world.

But it wasn’t his shirt that caught Angela’s attention. It was his eyes, and something in his hand. Across the table were strewn pictures, some yellowed like the shirt, others new. An empty packet read ‘Charles’, which Angela vaguely remembered as shop up the street.

Every picture featured the same face, and as you glanced over the collage you could see it age.

For a moment Angela was perplexed, but then the man’s eyes answered her question. They were red, staring off beyond the polaroid in his hand. They seemed to look through it, as if back in time. She could see his mind working, struggling to put the past and today together. Something that she understood. But whilst he was clawing at the past, she often pushed it away.

Always chasing that quick reward. The moment yet to come.

But in this moment, as she realised that the man opposite her was saying goodbye to his wife, she had that Disney moment.  Angela felt things fall away, and something came into focus.

A Disney moment wasn’t about a fairy tale, but the moments that transcend our worries. The seconds that remind us of our dreams, and how they come and go. Where a second can become an eternity, and what’s lost can be held for just so long.

Life wasn’t about a mermaid or hero, but about the beauty of moments we cherish. How they could provide us purchase even in the harsh cyclone of our lives speeding up. A smiling face in a yellowing picture, a yellow hat in a shaking hand, anything could be that moment,

All of a sudden Josie,  her mother, the hard day and the quick reward seemed trivial. And all that was left was the old man,  his moment, his story and the timeless love. She caught her breath and smiled. The old man looked up, his hands trembling, and nodded. He held up the picture, pointed with his other hand and smiled.

‘This was at Disney Land,’ he said.

Every once in a while I like to write something different. Image courtesy of Flickr.

Ben

 

 

Do You Fear The Dark? This Short Story May Be Too Much For You. Inside; In The Corner.

There was something there.

Alex’s hairs stood on end, the feeling of cold spreading across his body in a wave. His heart began to beat faster, and he found his throat catch. He couldn’t see it clearly, but there was another shadow in the darkness. It was malformed, almost shimmering, like it couldn’t decide whether it was part of his world or not. He listened intently, and heard heavy breathing. His own. But there was something else, a high pitched rattle just below it.

There was something there.

He stopped moving, and reached up to his headlamp. The cold metal dug into his fingers as he felt for the switch. It was an unreliable thing, and now was not the time for it to fail.  His girlfriend, Jane, had nagged at him to replace it. She was right. He heard her voice in his head, uttering her proverbial warning. Over and over. ‘It’s dangerous, get a new one.’ He grimaced as his fingers found the switch, but couldn’t move.

There was something there.

His heart raced and his mouth dried up. All the old fairy=tales ran through his head, unbound, circling, spinning, growing. The folklore of monsters and witches filled his consciousness, red eyes and bloodied claws.  Beasts moving in the night, stalking, watching, waiting. He had been terrified as a child, watching the corner of his bedroom in the twilight. The covers had been enough. The high pitch rattle stopped.

There was something there, and it had seen him.

The darkness seemed to rush inwards, become focussed on the mass hiding within it. He began to pick out its contours. It was huge, muscular, and wide. Something moved, and he could swear that he could see wings. No! Wings? Why would it need wings? They were a mile below the surface. What creature would need wings down here? Could it see him? No, it was dark. Very dark.

Maybe that was why it was eating that darkness up.

The rattle began again, faster this time. Whatever it was, it was excited. Alex remembered the route behind him. ‘It’s dangerous’, Jane’s voice came again. It was a straight shot, 10 metres into the pothole. It couldn’t follow him there. But to get there he would need the lamp. And then it could see him. It would chase, and it would get him. He would be pulled into the darkness with it.

There was something there, and it was waiting.

He felt for the hammer on his belt. His adrenaline surged and the cold was all consuming. He found the handle, and pulled it slowly from its hook. It was tiny, but might be enough to get in one hit. Enough to shock it. It probably didn’t expect any resistance. It’s prey down here was tiny, rats, moles. Whatever scurrying things hid in the blackness.

But then why was it so big? What did it feed on? The darkness had almost disappeared, and had become something monstrous. Alex couldn’t quite understand it, and his brain riled at the sight. It threw it back up. Nothing in his fairy-tale could begin to explain it. The creature in the corner was nothing like the shadows in his bedroom. The fairy-tales were a lie, sugar-coating the horrors they told. Jane screamed ‘It.’

It was hanging against the wall, Long spindly arms, coarse and muscled, wiry black veins bulging from a deep azure skin. Huge long claws, maybe a metre, glinted in the still moments of rare light. They were caked in blood, sinew and skin. Its chest was pitted, the ribs carved starkly against its mottled skin. Huge legs, covered in feathers, ended in talons. And its face, oh fuck, its face.

It was smiling. It had a mouth, but it ended in a razor sharp beak. Its eyes were milky white, blind, but rolling left to right. Its head was raised, sniffing the air. Searching. The smile widening as it picked up Alex’s fear. A tongue, purple and thin, lolled from the corner of its maw. Its wings suddenly spread. Its face turned to Alex, and the milky white eyes fixed on his.

There was something there, and it was hungry.

Alex panicked. He flicked the switch, and for a brief second the cave was illuminated. He was in a nest. Bones lay in piles on the floor, torn rucksacks, skin, humans and animals. A little yellow cap with ‘Disney’ written on it. And somewhere in the mountain of gore, tiny white eyes stared frantically. He was in a nest, and mother was hungry. And mother filled his vision.

There was something there. ‘It’ he thought, the words tumbling over and over as the beast began to feed.

This story was written on the fly in around 15 minutes. In the corner across from me sits a copy of Stephen King’s  ‘It’. This was the first horror novel I ever read. I remember one thing distinctly, the feeling of unease. Nothing could ever be as terrifying as the question of what was watching. If you would like to learn more about fear, read my article on the subject.

Perhaps one day I can write a proper horror novel.

What do you think? Let me know!

Image courtesy of Beatrice Murch.

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Do You Know How It Feels To Be The Odd One Out? Perhaps There Is A Reason. Inside: Matchstick. A Short Story.

Match was cold. And pressed up against his friends, well some were friends at least, he paid no mind. He would often find himself lost in thought, an uncomfortable realisation for one whom has no clear biology. ‘Where am I thinking?’ he would often ask. The God-Hand had no answer, it was more interested in selecting the saved. So he busied himself with pondering other things, and unlike many others of his kind, asked big questions.

The life of a match called Match was not special. He was just one of many, and his universe was very small. Two long sides, two short, and two big, the very boundaries of his existence were defined within his line of sight. On occasion he would see heaven, a flicker of lights high above. Only when the God-Hand visited, and it rarely did this more than once at a time. Twice maybe, but never thrice.

Match had considered himself over and over in the dark. He was not especially tall, in fact he was a little shorter than his immediate neighbour, Match. His head was slightly bigger, which he guessed meant that he could think more. Not that Match had a brain, or eyes, or a mouth. But he could talk, listen and learn. It seemed that his presence was enough. Match considered himself a thinker in a world waiting to explode.

Today was to be his last day of thinking.

Long ago, or so it was said, the Universe had been created. In a great grinding of godly machines he had been formed, and within tiny glances of the machinations of the universe, he had realised that he was only a small part. A tiny part at that. There were millions like him, all sent to different universes, riding giant paths into the darkness. He could remember giants talking in unfathomable languages.

The proud and the priestly spoke oft of their singular purpose. A match, like Match, existed for one reason. To be devoured in holy fire, become one with the greater heavens. To be in service of God (or Gods, interpretations differed!) and to live in waiting. In their early days his community had talked, but now they were mostly silent. Waiting in silence was calming for the indoctrinated.  But not Match.

The Priests offered a holy message; one Match (and Match left, right and all others were taught very early.) ‘

We are made in the service of the Great God. He is ours and we are of him. By unity and sacrifice we build, our world made for us and us alone to await his judgement, his salvation.  We know not of God, his true form or his design. But it is good. From the great machine we come, and through the righteous fire we go, to become one in all God’s creation. A match unto an other, in service unto God’.

Of course matches understood the message differently, and little groups worshipped in different ways. But in the end, the text was Holy. But no one had seen it, so they couldn’t question. Faith was important to Match, order important to the Priests.

He had once asked Match (to the left,) whether they could be wrong. What if the God-hand was not picking the saved, but the cursed? What if above was not heaven, but hell? The concepts of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’ seemed rather arbitrary, made up, not-real. They seemed designed by Matches, the zealots, and not of the Universe or the heavens. Match (to the left) had not replied, but begun to mutter.

It was on that day that Match had been labelled a Heretic. Thankfully, for Match, the other matches could do little but twitter and mutter, for none of them had limbs. He was ‘dangerous’, a ‘deserter’, ‘lost’ and ‘full of sin’. The God-hand would ‘show the way’ and he had ‘turned away from it.’ Match himself still believed in the God-hand, it was all he knew, but to question came naturally. And the answers were uncomfortable.

Why create Match? Why place him in the dark? Why only show him the nature of reality when all control was lost? In a split second before (holy?) annihilation? What did this God want, why must he devour Match to become whole? Why split his spirit into millions if only to bring it back together? Why ‘test’ them? In his small wooden body he felt alone, just another amongst lambs to the slaughter.

But the Priests said the ways of God were beyond a match’s comprehension. So, there.

He considered the Universe. It was bound by strong walls, but seemed to move in the heavens. Sometimes they would all fall one way, then the other. Like the Universe was thrown about. Once there had been a great flood, and many had been lost. Their corpses were now holy, a reminder of God’s power. They had sinned in their corner, so the priests said. Aside from this, the Universe was unremarkable.

But the Priests said, it was wonderful. Just for them.

In the heavens Match had often heard many things. The Gods would talk, scream, cry and laugh. Not entirely unlike matches. Mighty explosions would come, often met with indignation. Sometimes the God hand would be covered in blood, other times simply ash. The heavens would be blue, red , orange or black. Far away there were matches up above, the saved burning down. Placed above. The faithful, unto God.

Or perhaps something else?

The God-Hand itself visited rarely. It was as if it came in desperation, eager to find solace in its flock. It was written that it could never visit more than twice at once, or a great cataclysm would befall the heavens. It had done so only once before, taken three of his brothers, and great panic had set upon them. After what seemed eons, it had returned, bloodied and shaking.  It had clearly averted the end.

Glory be to God-hand, the priests had chanted.

So Match pondered. His big head full. His little body useless. What was to become of him? Was he to be saved  by a generous creator, seeking unification? Or was he something else, something he could figure out for himself? Was the God-Hand holy, or simply another creature? Was he prey or kept? These were the questions of a heretic.

He wondered in the dark. Perhaps there was no God hand, but just a creature. Perhaps their creation was not holy, but of nature. Perhaps this universe was not theirs, but shared. Perhaps the heavens were not heavens, but the universe. The two the same, and former a lie. Perhaps he had been lied to. They had all been lied to. Order was more important than the truth.

Match shivered, cowed and fearful in his quiet revelation.

But lo, and then, the God-Hand came, as if in anger. The universe opened and the above was black. The saved burned brightly, and the gods spoke in hushed tones. The cold whipped in, a great trial. The first of his brothers was taken, but no light was found. A sinner. The congregation muttered eagerly, for it was time. The hand came again, picking a priest. And as it rose, Match saw fear in the Priest.

And felt fear for himself.

There was no flash, no salvation. And the hand came again. The great cataclysm was upon them, and Match stood firm. He had questioned the God, and now it was time. Dare he select him? Root him out for his sin? Cast him asunder, or take him into immortality? The God-hand froze, and then with mighty fingers, pulled Match from the Universe into the heavens.

Match became enlightened. He saw the heavens and found the truth. The Gods were many, but they were scared. They cowered in an infinite valley. They huddled against friable walls of their own making. They each held weapons, their hands shaking and their knuckles white. The floor was littered with the dead, matches, thousands. Between them there was mud, stirred up, blood, stirred in, and curious gravestones of burned paper.

They wore uniforms. Had logos, the God’s were not all powerful. They were subjects, serving a greater master. But they were fearful. And with terror Match learned why. A ‘God’ lay dead, its great being rendered mortal and ended, its face calm but broken, at the foot of the valley. The others, not ‘Gods’, creatures, subjects, fearful, powerless, paid no heed. They were scared. This was no glory.

He was turned to face his own ‘Universe’, and in the second before it closed, saw the hopeful faces of his brothers. He could not call out. He had seen the truth, and they couldn’t handle it. They would reject it, call him a liar, see it as a ‘test.’ Oh what fools!What mercy could he grant them? Would it be better to live a comfortable lie? Perhaps. It had worked since the dawn of time.

One of these creatures spoke, and the ‘God-Hand’ paused. It seemed pensive, considering. The face of his ‘God’ was set, grim, but within if flickered desperation. And Match was struck. The warmth was immediate, the great ‘Holy Flame’. If burned him, eating away at his thoughts. They became frantic. He saw a giant maw approach, and in it something long and pale. It beckoned him. This unity was not holy, but animal.

Then the cataclysm fell. A great explosion, a sickening thud, a mighty booming yell, and chaos rained down. The ‘God-Hand’ fell slack, as the great red flood came from above. The burning matches above were spinning, the ground coming ever closer. Match was extinguished, and with great fortitude, the ‘God’ Fell. The ‘Universe’ under him, crushed, broken, lost. He was alone.

In his last moments he watched the great valley torn asunder in holy fire. And as he became dust, one with all, his enlightenment wore heavy. The truth was unknown, but the lie was clear. In his last thought he found solace, that others may one day realise the truth, and with it, become empowered.

A match unto a match, unto eternity.

The idea of this short story came to be in the streets of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I had been wondering through the mud (although most streets were paved,) and watching the locals. They had watched back, most smiled. Many of them smoked. Local brands, not the expensive stuff. Even cancer sticks had a hierarchy. Matches were still used widely.

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The opinions above represent those of Dr Janaway alone and not necessarily those of his affiliates.  If you have any ideas for articles, or would like to write with me, let me know on Twitter or drop me an email.

Image courtesy of David Gavey